While Morphosis is known for their jagged steel surfaces and off-center forms, the firm has always been interested in sustainability. The ultimate representation of this thinking is its own new office in Culver City, which is the largest net-zero energy building in Los Angeles, and one of the greenest offices in the country.
The fairly rectangular structure, located just a few feet from the new light rail Expo Line’s elevated tracks in Culver City, gets most of its energy from photovoltaics—a 2,800-square-foot array sitting on top of a shaded parking canopy outside. But what makes it all work are the energy savings: It significantly reduces loads through several low-tech, high-tech, and even revolutionary techniques, most of which were developed with engineers at Buro Happold, whose LA offices are just down the street.
On top of the two-story building’s angled roof are four windcatchers, a technology adapted from ancient desert environments. Their high-tech iteration, produced by a company called Monodraught, has never before been employed in the United States. Essentially they are louvered steel boxes containing interior cross blades that allow air into the building, and, through the pressure built up on the far side of each blade, pull hot air up the other side. A digital sensor system (powered by photovoltaics) decides when to open the louvers and set the system in motion. It also keeps the louvers open at night, so cool air can flush out the space before the next work day.
To limit solar heat gain the building’s east and south facades are solid. And further limiting the impact of the sun, even when it comes in at a low angle, a series of acrylic and galvanized steel shades cover the building’s sun-facing edges to create a pleasant outdoor gathering space for employees. The shades, which jut dramatically from the building’s core, also serve as testing zone for future projects, and are currently fitted with mock-ups of the panels from Morphosis’ Emerson College building in Hollywood, currently in development.
Thanks to the windcatchers, large openings in the building’s façade that let in breezes, and to the solar shielding, the firm never really turns on the ultra-efficient air conditioning system that’s also built in. They rarely turn on lights during the day either. Sitting on the roof near the windcatchers are 16 square skylights. To soften their light they’re lined with acrylic diffusers, which bounce the harsh light, creating an almost museum-quality gentleness inside. To supplement this each skylight is fitted along its edges with fluorescent lights. The firm hopes to eventually install custom shades to further control the quality of light that enters the space, but they don’t appear to be missed.
All in all for such a sophisticated result, it’s an incredibly simple design. And that’s exactly the point, said David Herd, principal at Buro Happold. “You can walk into this space and immediately understand what’s happening.”
See net zero isn’t that hard, is it?